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Northwestern players vote on union question

Jay Bilas On Northwestern Players Unionizing

Associated Press

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -- Northwestern football players cast secret ballots Friday in an on-campus hall adjacent to their home stadium on whether to form the nation's first union for college athletes.

Just don't expect results any time soon.

After the vote, the ballot boxes will be sealed for weeks or months - perhaps even years - as an appeal by the Evanston-based university runs its course.

The full National Labor Relations Board agreed Thursday to hear the school's appeal of a regional director's March ruling that the players are employees and as such can unionize, triggering a rule that the ballots be impounded.

Last month's decision by the Chicago-area head of the NLRB, Peter Ohr, sent shockwaves through the world of college sports, prompting sharp criticism from Northwestern and college athletic departments nationwide.

There have been no raucous rallies or demonstrations on the 19,000-student campus just north of Chicago, only official notices about the vote posted near the Wildcats' locker room. There has been plenty of lobbying in the form of private meetings, calls and emails, and everyone from coach Pat Fitzgerald to NCAA President Mark Emmert has called for a "no" vote.

The 76 scholarship football players eligible to cast ballots know the spotlight is on them, said Ramogi Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Association, which would represent the players at the bargaining table if the pro-union side prevails.

Players were seen heading into a campus building Friday where ballots were being cast throughout the morning.

Some of the pressure they feel stems from dire Northwestern claims about the consequences of unionization, he said.

"They're looking at anything and everything to invoke fear in the players," said Huma, a former UCLA linebacker and a longtime critic of the NCAA. "We feel like some of the tactics are scare tactics."

Northwestern, which is required by law to let the vote proceed, denies applying undue pressure on players to vote "no." It did send a 21-page question-and-answer document to the players outlining the problems with forming a union. In it, Northwestern said it hoped unionization would not lead to player strikes in the event of a dispute - but that if it did, replacement players could be brought in to cross picket lines.

"The tension created in such a situation would be unprecedented and not in anyone's best interest," it said.

The school also said divisions could emerge between scholarship players eligible for union membership and walk-ons, coaches and staff.

"There is no question but that the presence of a union would add tension in terms of creating an `us' versus `them' feeling between the players it would represent and those it would not," it said.

Northwestern did not release the document publicly, but The Associated Press obtained a copy and Paul Kennedy, a spokesman for the university's athletic department, verified its authenticity. Alan K. Cubbage, the school's vice president for university relations, dismissed Huma's suggestion that the school was using scare tactics

"I would say strongly that Northwestern has conducted an election campaign ... according to the procedures and the rules of the NLRB," he said.

When outgoing Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter announced in January that he would lead the drive to unionize, helped by CAPA and the United Steelworkers, he said nearly all of his fellow teammates were behind him.

Safety Davion Fleming said his teammates have slowly begun to understand that the issues aren't clear cut.

"When the union talk initially started, it wasn't very clear what was going on," said Fleming, who can't vote because his eligibility is exhausted. "I think they didn't understand the implications."

Huma said Northwestern seemed to be intentionally misconstruing the facts, and said the school's "subliminal messages" included the suggestion that a "yes" vote could throw their amateur status into question.

"No one is taking about striking," he said. "They are trying to rattle players."

Trevor Siemian, who is expected to replace Colter as the starting quarterback, has said he will vote against a union.

"I'll say there's a significant number of guys on the team who feel the same as me," Siemian said this month.

Fleming also said he doesn't support unionization, though he said the drive has prompted a much-needed debate about conditions for players. After weeks of both sides vying for votes, he said he detects a common sentiment among players.

"They just want this to be over - and to focus on football," he said.


AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen contributed to this report.


Follow Michael Tarm at https://twitter.com/mtarm

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Join the discussion

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tjjgrant April 26 2014 at 1:19 AM

It's has to do with so many issues. Players have rights and the ncaa and the schools do not look after them. This is a big business. Players practice way too many hours. Miss way too much school. Are forced to play injured for fear they will loose there scholorship. The pressure for coaches to win makes it difficult for players to be treated fairly. The ncaa is horrible. Teams are joining conferences that are geographically too far. School and education take a back seat because of $$. If a school has the option of releasing a kid at any time a player should have the right to leave the school and transfer after the season without having a penalty of sitting out. Kids can get scholorships revolved at anytime. If a kid gets injured playing the sport the school needs to honor that for 4 years. These kids get used big time. Look at North Carolina. Paper classes what a joke. The system needs to make some changes. The players need a voice. The only way to do that unfortunately is with a union.

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3 replies
propickup April 25 2014 at 4:17 PM

this country is going in the wrong direction. it's the beginning to the end. SAD real SAD

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Linda April 25 2014 at 4:10 PM

Have people forgotten what school is for??? An EDUCATION!!!!!

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vrmasto April 25 2014 at 3:43 PM

Well this certainly frees up a lot of time I used to waste watching college sports. Here is what a yes vote gets you: That scholarship now is taxable income so pony up your income Taxes and all payroll taxes and union dues accordingly; you lose your amateur sports status; the university now has a lot of really nice real estate and athletic equipment available for sale and lastly you get to go to actual classes now. GPA now equals Greedy "Professional" Athlete. Somewhere Karl Marx is singing a his alma mater's "fight" song.

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2 replies
d1anaw vrmasto April 25 2014 at 3:59 PM

Actually, if they want a union, get rid of the scholarships all together. Let them pay for their education or what is more likely is that they will become professional athletes and not attend class at all, which some aren't anyway. But at least it takes out the phoniness of it and at least they won't be taking up a seat that someone who'd actually like to get an academic education could use.

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belldon10 vrmasto April 25 2014 at 4:28 PM

Yea, vrmasto, they'd be a lot happier and well off a slaves. I'm for a bill in congress that doesn't tax college athletes for scholarship "income." Schools should pay their athletes, get the millions, then give the athletes a free 4yr scholarship so they can make millions. Uniona made the middle classs, the destruction of Unions, thanks to $%^^%%$ Pres reagan, has meant the destruction of the middle class.

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1 reply
vrmasto belldon10 April 25 2014 at 7:32 PM

Slaves? Four year free ride on tuition today is worth how much? But yes let's create another generation of people who expect something for nothing and who do not want to be held accountable for their actions. So let's ram another special interest bill through Congress that exempts these players form taxes and reality.

Also the above mentioned Congress is the leading cause of the middle class destruction. They have forgotten that it is a privilege to serve us and that they serve only with our permission. Lifetime term limits for every position from local government on up so these "career" politicians come back to a real job like the rest of us deal with everyday.

Bet you we suddenly get a lot clearer thinking, let's entitlements (since that is what legislators are used to so that is what they hand out.) It was not all that long ago that made in America and being an American meant something. How did we lose our leadership position. Like so many things in life--those titles have to be earned. They are not given out for free to anyone who cuts corners and loses sight of the values.

Unions biggest enemy is themselves and I have a lot of insight here since I had several large unions as clients in the steel industry at one time. How many of you reading this now would have ever believed that the main plant of Bethlehem Steel would be a casino now? Greed , stupidity and short sightedness caused that not any president or their contingent of court jesters in Congress.

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onionson April 25 2014 at 3:11 PM

Hahaha. If it's reached the point that college athletes want to form a union it's reached a point we need to end the athletic programs and drag them back into the class room. The last thing we need are even more un earned degree idiots with seniority.

No offense to the small percentage of smart athletes that have earned a degree. .....most of whom are in the lesser sports not potent enough to even suggest unionizing.

Will a coach have to attend an arbitration hearing before he can bench a player?

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2 replies
moeelmore onionson April 25 2014 at 4:10 PM

The law of unitended consequences is already biting them in the ass. I consider so called student athletes who do not aggressively pursue a meaning ful degree to be phonies and such positions abolished. Hell, the military academies talk about entrance standards but they also give preference and reduce academic requirements for many of them. Time to go to intramural sports, finish the semi-professional college sports, and get back to educaiton. let the pros create farm leagues like baseball has.

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belldon10 onionson April 25 2014 at 4:35 PM

the idiot coach is earning millions on the backs of student athletes who want to get an education.

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J Grace April 25 2014 at 3:05 PM

The players are not employees. Otherwise they should be paying taxes annually on their proceeds value which could be worth $40,000 a year, and they should also be paying social security tax and medicare tax. Guess they forgot about that. Now for the question. If they vote for a union and it is upheld in the courts, would the IRS have a legitimate process in proceeding against all scholarship players for all sports, and even those who received educational scholarships, for all of the back taxes owed? And your answer is ........ (Oh, and don't forget about all those foreigners who receive US grants for their education.)

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1 reply
MARY KAY & SCOTT J Grace April 25 2014 at 3:09 PM

Excellent point...guess the Northwestern players also forgot about the union dues they will have to pay. What a boon for the United Steelworkers pension plan! Guess there will be room in the Big 10 for one more football team...seeing as Northwestern will no longer have a program.

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Kenny April 25 2014 at 2:53 PM

when the say yes............... boot them ..........

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illiniwek55 April 25 2014 at 2:50 PM

So far as i know thes idiots are not forced to play college football. Pull their scholarships and let them dig ditches for the rest of their lives.

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1 reply
belldon10 illiniwek55 April 25 2014 at 4:38 PM

I agree. Let the F***ing schools raise money some other way.

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Rick April 25 2014 at 2:47 PM

Wait till they find out that they will have to pay taxes on their scholarships.

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kcampo6453 April 25 2014 at 2:40 PM

Guess the unions are getting desperate having to sign up college kids.

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